KISS Meets the Phantom of The Park (1978)

This entry is for the Pop Stars Blogathon (NOTE: KISS are ROCK stars, but this entry was deemed acceptable for the theme!) hosted by Real Weegie midget.

It’s almost as if I was destined to be a KISS fan, as I was born in 1996, the year KISS reunited with the original four- and officially became a fan in 1998, thanks to my Mom, a fan since the 70’s.

With the band currently on their, “End of the Road Final Tour Ever” (note- my Mom saw them on their 2000 “Farewell” tour… so…), I decided to review the 1978 made for TV movie: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park aka KISS in Attack of the Phantoms in Europe. Their are slight differences to the versions, with the most noticeable difference for the Attack version being the inclusion of the band’s 1978 solo albums as part of the film’s soundtrack.

The plot of the movie is wacky, but it goes as so: Due to the KISS concert at Magic Mountain, engineer Abner Devereaux (Anthony Zerbe) is jealous because the band is stealing attention from his attractions. Once he is wrongly blamed for a ride breakdown, park manager Calvin Richards (Carmine Caridi) fires him. To get back at KISS, Devereaux mind controls park employee Sam (Terry Lester) to steal KISS’s magical talisman that give them superpowers. Meanwhile, Sam’s girlfriend Melissa (Deborah Ryan), is worried and after their show asks KISS for help to find Sam. But when a Gene Simmons clone wreaks havoc on the park, and KISS clones show up for their concert instead, while the real KISS is imprisoned and weakened; it’s up to KISS to escape, regain their powers, take down Devereaux and their clones, save Sam, and do it in time to put on the concert their fans deserve!!!

Many fans incuding myself, believe this to be an ultimate Rock-Star shot of the group

Originally described as A Hard Day’s Night meets Star Wars, there were many factors that initially made this movie seem like it would be the ultimate KISS fan’s dream: it was being filmed on location at Magic Mountain, it was backed by Hanna-Barbera productions, KISS was at the height of their popularity, PLUS a real concert attended by fans was going to be filmed and placed in the movie!!!!

However, behind the scenes, things were seriously going wrong. For one, none of the members of KISS could act, it showed, and the script went through countless rewrites, which, in turn translated to the screen. Secondly, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were dealing with substance abuse; with Criss getting into a car accident with the band’s tour manager on the final day of filming (and true to his Catman ways, came through with minor injuries).

Then, there’s the obvious stunt doubles and of course, the now urban legend of Peter not showing up for ADR sessions resulting in the voice dubbing with Michael Bell. (I, as well as my Mom, personally believe Peter did some, as his voice can be heard in certain scenes, not counting the Beth scene. Just hear the line: “We’re just ordinary human beings” and THAT’S PETER!!!).

Production issues aside, the magic touch of this film certainly HAS to be the fact this movie is all about KISS. To see the original four playing at the concert is a real thrill and time capsule moment in KISSTORY. The music makes the movie in this case, with many songs from the band’s catalouge being used as well as in the Attack version, multiple songs from each of their individual 1978 solo albums (a highlight: Ace’s New York Groove being played during the second fight sequence: complete with Frehley flips!!!!).

Speaking as a KISS fan and a movie fan, I say this movie is still best (because you wanted the best!!!). So what if Paul Stanley’s “magic eye” laser looks fake- it’s only something he as the Starchild could pull off.  Gene Simmons’s voice was ridiculously altered to play up his Demon persona- but he makes it cool.  And even though Peter’s stunt double is especially noticeable – it’s still awesome to know the Catman has enhanced jumping abilities!!!

And of course I have to mention Ace’s ACK! (sorry Mom!! HAHAHA!) I think it’s hysterical and makes the movie extra legendary and funny! Only Space-Ace can make something so pointless and dumb so likable and iconic! It may have caused problems on set, as Ace was originally only supposed to say Ack! the whole movie- (he threatened to leave if real dialogue wasn’t written for him)- but it’s ironic because that’s what he would say in real life when writers were trying to write material around his personality.  

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The humming noise you hear is Beethoven’s Fifth

Today, the film is a real fan favorite and a true cult film. It’s just super fun for KISS fans, 1970’s film fans, and music fans alike to just enjoy the film for what it is: a cheesy, funny, entertaining film involving KISS.  I admit I was laughing- but in a lovable manner. Even KISS has gotten over the initial embarrassment (it being known that for years, KISS employees were not allowed to mention the film in any of the band’s members’ presence) with Ace later stating it was “tons of fun” to film. As my mom says, “This movie is so hokey, but I love it!!”

Farewell?! KISS! We’ll always have the Phantom (and your music… and the dvds… and the action figures… and all the other kollectibles! !!)

Two Lane Blacktop (1971)

When it comes to giving a fair assessment of Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop (1971) I will be the first to admit that A: its not the type of film I traditionally would watch, its a 1970’s film and I am very picky about the decade’s movies, preferring 1970’s music over movies; and B: the only reason I wanted to see it was because The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson (drummer until his premature 1983 death) made his only film with this movie.

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(wikipedia)

Doing more research, I quickly learned this film was in the Criterion Collection and in the National Film Registry, part of me knew I had to give this film a real chance and see why critics call it, ‘the most pure American road movie ever made‘.

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Dennis: lookin’ fine on set (wikipedia)

I would had never even heard of Two Lane Blacktop if it wasn’t for Dennis, and to see anything Dennis did around this period in his life, as he was healthy and sober, is a real treat for Beach Boys fans (such as myself!!).

With that being said, it should be noted this film is rare and not easily found on TV or streaming. It earned a cult status right from the get go in 1971, with Universal head Lew Wasserman hating the film, telling the marketing/ PR departments to kill any and all publicity about it.

The premise of Two Lane isn’t really explainable, there is no legit plot. Its real focus is on the characters: what they do and who they encounter on the open road. James Taylor is The Driver, Dennis plays The Mechanic, Laurie Bird goes by The Girl, and Warren Oates is referred to as GTO (yes, he is called after his car). We never find out their real names, and aside from Oates, none of the others ever did a movie before.

Basically, The Driver and Mechanic drive around on the open road picking up hitchhikers and participate in drag races for money. They may be ‘partners on the road’ but that’s it~ they don’t even talk to each other besides saying vital information, such as their next stop or what part of the car needs to be fixed. To say they are friends isn’t a description of how they are together- yet at the same time, they have a great dynamic.

The only real hint of plot comes when The Girl wanders in their car when they stop at a diner, and later when GTO challenges them on a cross country race for the pink slip to the loser’s car- and even then, it’s not even important to the film. This movie is more so a time capsule about America in the early 1970s:  gas stations, the open road, diners, cars, the landscapes of small towns- even vintage advertising.

Its easy to compare this movie to 1969’s Easy Rider, but I would beg to differ arguing this movie is the flip side of the coin. Its minimalist qualities and uncertain, flaky premise make it a more “laid back” movie of the New Hollywood era. However, I would be lying of I said this film is something you can half ignore while watching- as everything you see is pure cinema; and its similar to a silent film in that regard. If you watch it straightforward its going to be boring, but if you concentrate on the character’s motive’s and what they are doing- it turns into a complex film with many layers to be thought about.

Two-Lane Blacktop: Slow Ride
3 of the 4 stars, plus the 1955 Chevrolet 210

I came away from this film being totally saddened by the fact I was back in my own world, as the atmosphere it creates is a whole different one. I wanted to remain in the world of being on the road and in that feeling of being carefree. I was dying to find out more about these people who drove around in their car looking for life’s adventures. It was a bit slow in some parts, but it more than made up for it with its scenery and racing parts- (queue the lyric: TACH IT UP, TACH IT UP, BUDDY GONNA SHUT YOU DOWN!)

Overall, Two Lane Blacktop is certainly not for everyone, but for those who are interested: it’s a slow ride to savor- and take over again.

CLICK HERE to learn more on Criterion’s website